Do cats know when you’re crying? Well we know that dogs know when you’re crying because of a recent study which I touch on below. We also know in an earlier study that cats can in time read our expressions. The question is do cats and dogs know that crying normally means that you’re distressed and would welcome some comforting?
I’d like briefly to mention a dog study. I don’t think that it is unreasonable to say that if dogs understand that their owner is distressed when they’re crying that the same might well apply to cats. Cats have been domesticated for almost 10,000 years. They should have learned a bit about humans.
An experiment 2 was conducted on dogs to see if they went to their crying owners to comfort them. They found that when their owner hummed a nursery rhyme their dog came to them by pushing open a door in almost 100 seconds, just over one and a half minutes. If their owner was crying they pushed open the transparent door in an average time of just over 20 seconds. The conclusion is there for all to see: dogs do want to assist a distressed owner.
It was also noticed that some dogs became distressed themselves and on occasion became so distressed that they were unable to figure out how to get to their human companion who was behind the see-through door. In fact, one dog became so distressed at her master’s crying that the owner had to break off the experiment to comfort her.
The experiment demonstrates that dogs want to be useful. I am sure most if not all dog owners have experienced comfort from their companion animal when distressed.
I’d argue that there are also many cat owners who can report the same behaviour with their cats.
In an earlier study 1 on cats recognising human expression (reported no BBC Earth) it was found that cats can read human facial expressions and that they learn this over time. When cats are presented with a smiling owner they were more likely to be positive and purr, rub against the owner and want to sit on their lap (be close to their owner).
We don’t have an experiment for cats which replicates the one about dogs referred to above but it’s reasonable to suggest that cats are possibly sensitive to their owners’ emotional state as expressed through facial expressions. If cats recognise the human smile, it’s likely that they recognise the opposite, the facial expression accompanying crying.
1. Oakland University by Moriah Galvan and Jennifer Vonk published in Animal Congnition.
2. Timmy’s in the well: Empathy and prosocial helping in dogs by Emily Sanford and colleague(s) at John Hopkins University.
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